Carrabassett Valley: Winter
At 4,237 feet Sugarloaf is New England’s third-tallest ski area, but in skiing and snowboarding, it’s not just size that matters—each ski area has its own identity and character, defined as much by its activities, dining, and atmosphere as by its mountain stats.
Experienced skiers and riders know that bona fide epic days on the mountain are defined by either heaps of fresh snow (even if it’s still falling) or full-out sunshine and blue skies. If you’re lucky, like we are this weekend, you get both: a clear blue sky, bright sun, and lots of new snow. Over the past weeks, Sugarloaf has received over five feet of snow, and it has the deepest snowpack in New England.
With over 163 trails and more in the side-country terrain of Burnt Mountain, Brackett Basin, and the glades of the Eastern Territory, Sugarloaf takes more than a few days to fully explore. After fueling up with some Carrabassett Coffee at Java Joe’s and a phenomenal bowl of Powdah Chowdah at the Widowmaker Lounge (also known for its spectacular nacho platter) in Sugarloaf’s base lodge, we coast onto the Double Runner West lift for a few warm-up runs.
For our first day we stick mostly to the green and blue trails off the Whiffletree and Sugarloaf SuperQuad lifts; for last run, we take the Timberline chair to the summit (Sugarloaf also boasts the only lift-serviced above-tree- line skiing in the East) for a pre-sunset panoramic view. The sights of Mount Washington and Mount Katahdin are exhilarating. Our last run is top to bottom: through the Snowfields, then a long cruise down Tote Road, Spur Line, Stomping Grounds, and Candy Side to the base lodge. The sheer variety of runs, along with the diversity of challenging terrain, underscores Sugarloaf’s reputation as a mountain for skiers and riders of all tastes and abilities.
Our first stop is 45 North, a warm, chic restaurant located off the lobby of the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel. Its menu is modern Maine cuisine, and its wine list is superb. Over a few glasses of shiraz (and hot chocolate for the kids), we sample the roasted pear salad with mixed greens, blue cheese, maple vinaigrette, and local cranberries. It goes perfectly with the fried cauliflower with parsley, lemon, capers, raisins, shallots, and spinach. A solo guitarist playing a mix of melodies adds to the relaxed ambience.
Fortified, we step back into our skis for a gentle cruise down the lower Snowbrook trail below the base lodge to our ski-in place at Snowflower Condominiums. The two- bedroom condo is amply appointed, including a wood-burning fireplace and complimentary use of the Sugarloaf Sports and Fitness Center (with a pool, hot tubs, gym, and more), just a short walk away.
Sugarloaf organizes kids-focused family evenings most weeks at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center, a high-ceilinged, post-and-beam lodge located in the woods off Route 27. After a wholesome pasta and salad buffet, the staff reads stories to about 30 children huddled in front of a roaring stone fireplace. The evening is reasonably priced, and it’s easy and fun to mingle with other families. Everyone also goes home with some Sugarloaf swag.
All the new snow and sunny weather draws a lot of people, but our initial fears of lines are unfounded, as the mountain easily absorbs the crowds. With its vast terrain and 13 lifts, including two high-speed detachable quads, Sugarloaf’s uphill capacity is huge.
Located at the intersection of Timberline and Windrow trails and shrouded by pine trees and snow is Bullwinkle’s, a Euro- style, on-mountain restaurant that offers a quick ski-in, ski-out snack or a sit-down lunch of healthy comfort food. You can warm up next to a fireplace or sit on the deck in the sun. The French onion soup and mac and cheese are outstanding. On Saturday nights, visitors can journey up the mountain by snow cat for an elegant multicourse dinner.
After a last top-to-bottom leg burner it’s time for S’mores on the Beach—a kind of happy hour for children hosted by Amos the Moose in front of Sugarloaf’s base lodge. A crowd of rosy- cheeked kids gathers around an outdoor fire pit and, aided by resort ambassadors, roast up deliciously gooey marshmallow s’mores.
Every good ski town has a quintessential après-ski party spot, and about a mile off-mountain, the Rack BBQ is just that. A multilevel barn-like structure, it has the feel of a good-time, honky-tonk brewpub with colored lights, pool tables, and live music. Ski memorabilia plasters the walls and ceilings, including an accessible vintage hanging gondola. Skis and race bibs hang to honor ski celebrities who have called Sugarloaf their home mountain, such as Bode Miller, Emily Cook, Kirsten Clark, and Seth Wescott, who co-owns the Rack. Locals and visitors can enjoy a phenomenal selection of beers and dine on classic ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and wings in homemade sauces.
Driving up Access Road back to our condo, we see the lights of the groomers, like fireflies, high up on the mountain, preparing the mountain for another great day.
Out early for one last sunny morning on the mountain, we explore some tree runs and a few lifts we haven’t encountered. We do a few runs through the kid- friendly Moose Alley in the woods, with its miniature log cabins and playhouses, like something out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
We have time to wander through a few of the retail shops at the base of the mountain, including alpine skiing and snowboarding outfitter Downhill Supply Company, the Burton Signature Store, and the Kühl Signature Store. We take photos of the snow sculptures of moose and bears and grab some delicious burgers to go from the Shipyard Brew Haus at the Sugarloaf Inn. It has struck us that—with or without kids—we’d need far more than 48 hours to cover this mountain properly. Sugarloaf is big and fun, and it’s clear why this is one of the truly great ski resorts in the East.